Movie Project #8: The Insider [1999]

50 Movies Project #4: Contemporary Edition

The 50 Movies Project is an annual tradition at The Warning Sign. Every year, I select 50 movies that I feel I must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. This year I’m focusing on contemporary films (1980 to present day) that I somehow haven’t gotten around to seeing yet.

The Insider [1999]

The Insider [1999]
Director: Michael Mann
Writer: Michael Mann, Eric Roth
Country: USA
Genre: Biography/Drama/Thriller
Starring: Russell Crowe, Al Pacino, Christopher Plummer
Running Time: 157 minutes

Whistleblowing reports are ripe for film adaptations, and Michael Mann’s The Insider turns one such true story into a gripping thriller. No action scenes are necessary here; instead, the film builds tension through the tumultuous work that is investigative journalism, and the extreme lengths large corporations will go to cover their asses.

Russell Crowe plays Dr. Jeffrey Wigand, a research chemist who decides to blow the whistle on the illegal behavior of his former employer, Brown & Williamson. Part of the triumvirate that is Big Tobacco, B&W had blatantly lied to Congress about the addictive nature of their cigarettes. Wigand is persuaded to spill the beans about these blatant perjuries by 60 Minutes producer, Lowell Bergman (Al Pacino).

There’s a lot on the line here. Wigand is breaking his confidentiality agreement, thereby risking jail, and he is receiving all sorts of legal pressure from his former company. He becomes paranoid, believing there to be threats on his life, and it begins to unravel his once-stable family. Bergman, determined to get this story out there, is fighting profusely with his superiors at CBS. They are worried about the possible financial repurcussions that could happen if they were to air an interview with Wigand. There’s a lot of back-and-forth drama going on, and the pressure takes its toll on both men. By the end of the film, both Wigand and Bergman look like they have been to hell and back. It’s an increasingly desperate battle between the evil corporation and those seeking to tell the truth.

The Insider [1999]

There is an equal emphasis on both men in this film. We grow to learn more about Wigand early on, as he battles with himself on whether or not to fully go through with his actions. Later, Bergman is the main focus as he fights tooth and nail to get the 60 Minutes interview with Wigand on the air and unedited. Even when things are looking absolutely dire, neither one gives up.

Both characters are well-written and given an ample amount of screen time, and Crowe and Pacino bring out the best in them. As the film goes on, it becomes more and more noticeable just how much of an uphill climb they have ahead of them. Crowe and Pacino are backed by an impressive supporting cast, including Christopher Plummer as 60 Minutes anchor Mike Wallace, Philip Baker Hall as the TV show’s top boss, and Diane Venora as Wigand’s distraught wife.

The Insider [1999]

If there is a flaw in the film, it’s the running time. This is a captivating story, no doubt, but it feels a bit stretched too thin to warrant a running time of over two and a half hours. There are moments where the film drags, and a bit more editing would have been beneficial.

In the end, The Insider asks the question: is justice really worth fighting for? In this case, yes, it appears so. All of the hard work from these two men did pay off, as the Big Tobacco companies reached a massive settlement (over $200 billion) with all 50 states. Wigand and Bergman emerged as different men by the end of it all, but it can be argued their perseverance made them stronger than they ever were before.

8/10

Movie Project #15: All About My Mother [1999]

Due to the surprising success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a part two for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

All About My Mother [1999]

All About My Mother [1999]
Director: Pedro Almodóvar
Genre: Drama
Starring: Cecilia Roth, Marisa Paredes, Antonia San Juan, Penélope Cruz and Candela Peña
Runtime: 101 minutes

It is fitting that I included All About My Mother in this movie project, especially after recently watching All About Eve. Pedro Almodóvar’s 1999 ode to women won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar that year, and it is laced with references to the seminal 1950 classic. Not only is this a movie also dominated by women, but there is even a brief clip of a Spanish dubbed version of All About Eve near the beginning of the film. At one point, the main character is even called Eve Harrington by name as a sort of insult. What’s funny is that I didn’t plan this at all; I added All About My Mother simply because multiple sources told me this was a great entry point into Pedro Almodóvar’s canon. Mission accomplished: I am now eager to see more of his work.

Argentine actress Cecilia Roth stars as Manuela, a nurse overcome by grief after watching her 17-year-old son die in a tragic car accident. Still suffering, she quits her job in the organ transplant department and travels to Barcelona to find her son’s father and tell him the news. While there, she meets up with an old friend, transvestite prostitute Agrado (Antonia San Juan), becomes close to a pregnant nun (Penélope Cruz), and also begins working for famous actress Huma Rojo (Marisa Peredes).

All About My Mother [1999]

The lives of all four ladies become intertwined, but Manuela is very much the center of the film. Her maternal instincts are constantly being shown, as not only did she care for her son Esteban in the beginning, but she also spends much of the movie taking care of the nun Rosa during her pregnancy. Manuela is a powerful woman with a rough past, and this is displayed flawlessly by Cecilia Roth.

While a straight drama dealing with powerful topics, All About My Mother does have moments of much-welcomed comedy. These snippets of humor are mostly provided by Agrado, who acts as a warm source of comic relief. Agrado’s likable demeanor is especially present when a stage play goes awry, and the character is forced to improvise alone on stage. For a film that tackles such heavy topics as the death of a child, unplanned pregnancies and HIV, bits of laughter are very helpful to lighten the mood a bit.

All About My Mother [1999]

All About My Mother is an intriguing film, one that does not pull any punches. Perhaps most interesting is that everyone was portrayed in the same light — men, women, transgender, none of that mattered. We are all human, and I don’t know if I have seen a better movie to demonstrate this.

8/10

 

Also, I would like to take this time to write a quick “For Your Consideration” note. As many of you know, the LAMMY Awards are underway. If you are a member of the wonderful LAMB (Large Association of Movie Blogs) community, I would love if you considered this 50 Movies Project for the Best Running Feature category. The Warning Sign is also eligible for Best New LAMB, and it would be a blast to be nominated for either award (or anything else, for that matter). Thanks as always for reading, and for your helpful consideration!

Video Game Review: Crash Team Racing [Playstation, 1999]

Crash Team Racing [Playstation, 1999]

Crash Team Racing
System: Playstation
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: Naughty Dog
Release Date: October 20, 1999

Back in 1999, Crash Bandicoot was still reigning supreme as the Playstation’s mascot. Looking to branch out from the series’ standard platforming games, developer Naughty Dog released Crash Team Racing, a kart racing spinoff very similar to Mario Kart. If you have played a kart racing game before, then you have a good idea of what to expect with CTR. The controls are largely the same and are very simple — the buttons for accelerating, using powerups and the “hop” function are all you really need to know (power sliding is key). The powerups are standard fare — there are speed boosts, rockets that take out the leader, TNT boxes that are dropped immediately behind you, etc. There really is not a lot in the way of originality, but this is not an issue simply because CTR is so well-polished. Naughty Dog took the best elements of previous games in the genre and molded them together to make something that truly stands out on its own.

When I think of kart racing games, I immediately think of multiplayer. Playing split-screen with friends is usually the best way to go with these types of games, and while CTR offers plenty of fun via its battle and versus modes, it really excels in its single player adventure mode. This feature has an absurd amount of depth. You select a character from the world of Crash Bandicoot (Coco, Neo Cortex, Tiny, etc.) and then proceed to race in a variety of worlds while battling bosses along the way. You are given free reign in an open world in which you drive to whatever race you want to participate in. Once you have completed a course’s standard race, new options open up that bring additional replay value to the game: Relic Races and CTR Challenges. The former option requires you to race the track alone in the fastest time possible while smashing crates that temporarily stop time. The latter option puts you in a standard race, but your goal is to find the hidden C-T-R letters while still finishing in first place. Beating all three styles of races for each course provides you with gems/emblems that open up more levels. It really is a lot of fun going through each course while trying to get 100% completion.

Although the graphics shows its age, CTR is still one of the better-looking games from its era. Its kart racing formula is timeless, and even though it is not original in the slightest, it is still a blast to play. In fact, CTR is one of the most well-rounded kart racers I have ever played. I liked this game a lot when I was younger, and I still enjoy it to this day. If you are looking for a simple racing game with surprising depth, I highly recommend Crash Team Racing. You can’t beat its $6 price tag on the Playstation Network either.

8.5/10

Um Jammer Lammy [Playstation, 1999]

Um Jammer Lammy [PSX]

Um Jammer Lammy
System: Playstaton
Publisher: SCEA
Release Date: July 31, 1999

Um Jammer Lammy is a musical/rhythm game that is a spiritual successor to the popular PaRappa The Rapper. This time around, however, instead of rapping, you control a guitar-playing female lamb. Uh, yeah, and she just so happens to be in paper-thin 2D, just like the rest of the game’s characters. The game possess a unique style, this is for sure, and its storyline is even more bizarre. The main character, Lammy, is running late for a gig for her band, Milkcan. Along the way to the show, she continually gets interrupted and has to perform a number of amazing feats with her guitar. She puts out fires, delivers babies, and flies a plane, just to name a few examples. All of this is absolutely ridiculous, but it definitely adds to the game’s unending charm.

As for the gameplay itself, there are seven levels to go through. The stages are played by pressing buttons in conjunction with the rhythm of the songs. Easy mode lets you press any button you want, but normal mode requires using specific buttons. Some of these songs get awfully complex, whereas others resort to button-mashing (the pregnancy level is notorious for this with its “ma ma ma ma ma ma ma”). Thankfully there is room for improvisation, which is especially helpful for those who struggle at these types of games. Um Jammer Lammy can get pretty difficult, but the songs are catchy and the rewards for beating the game are worth it. Completing the game on solo mode unlocks the option to play as PaRappa and a new character, Rammy. There is also the possibility of co-op play, which adds to the replay value.

Um Jammer Lammy is challenging, and it has the ability to easily frustrate gamers, especially since sometimes its button-pressing recognition seems a little off-kilter. However, there is still a lot of entertainment to be had here, and there is a surprising amount of replay value despite only having seven stages. If you like rhythm games and have a knack for the weird, you will enjoy Um Jammer Lammy.

7/10